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Hammerin’ Hank heads home

Like all the boys from my era, I grew up a baseball fan. In fact, we were fans of all sports. We played baseball in summer, football in the fall and basketball in the winter time. We never saw soccer except on the fabulous ‘˜Wide World of Sports’ TV show on Saturday evenings. If futbol had been played in the South, we would have played it, too. I hate missing out on lacrosse by a half century. Running around and hitting each other with sticks would have been right up our ally. But, in my early youth, baseball was the thing. My brothers and I hurled rubber balls against the side of the house until Mama and Daddy bought us a Pitchback net which we promptly destroyed. We lugged a bat, a ball and our gloves around the neighborhood until we found playmates and then it was on. We had countless baseball cards that I fervently wish I could find now. We destroyed thousands of dollars of current value by clothes pinning old or surplus cards to our bicycle spokes in order to pretend we were riding motorcycles. We loved baseball but we never really had a team to root for. We watched the Game of the Week every Saturday on NBC. It was aptly named because it was the only televised game of the week and we had only three TV channels to choose from. so, we tended to root for players rather than teams. Then, lo and behold, the Milwaukee Braves moved to Atlanta and later established a farm team that played at Grayson Stadium in Savannah less than a mile from our grandparents’ home. Suddenly we had a team. Felipe Alou, Eddie Matthews, Rico Carty, Joe Torre, Denis Menke and pitchers Tony Cloninger, Pat Jarvis, Phil Neikro, Cecil Upshaw and, my favorite, Denny Lemaster. My first ever trip to Atlanta was on a bus full of Cub Scouts and chaperones. We went to old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium to see the Braves. We saw our heroes in person. We saw Chief Noc-A-Homa and his teepee. It was magical. But the main man on the Braves and everybody’s hero was Henry Aaron, Hammerin’ Hank. Many nights I laid in bed with a transistor radio under my pillow clandestinely listening to late games. The Braves announcer was Milo Hamilton and he was the best. Nobody since has equalled him. His home run call was always the same. ‘There’s a drive. Waaaaay back. That ball is outta here!’ More often than not, the long ball was hit by Hammerin’ Hank who was chasing Babe Ruth’s record of 714 homers. He eventually caught the Babe and sealed his status as a human legend who transcended all sports. When the game was on the line and you needed someone to drive in a run to win it or hit a solo homer to tie up a game in the ninth, Hank Aaron usually came through. Last week Hammerin’ Hank headed for home – his eternal, heavenly home – one last time. I’m sure he slid in safely just under the catcher’s mitt. He was always clutch!

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